The Four Ethers – Reading 1


“You know of course from earlier lectures that we are accustomed to enumerate what we call the elementary states within our earth existence, beginning with the solid, then coming to the watery, next to the gaseous or aeriform and then to the warmth. These four constitute the denser conditions of matter. But we have not yet finished. If we go further upwards we meet with finer conditions, of which we do not get a much better idea by calling them finer substances. The main thing is to recognise them as finer relatively to the denser ones, the gaseous, the warmth and so on. They are usually called etheric states, and we have always distinguished light as the first of these finer states. Thus, when we descend from warmth into the denser, we come to the gaseous condition; if we ascend, we come to light. Ascending still further, beyond the light we come to a yet finer etheric condition, we come to something which is not really recognisable in the ordinary sense-world. We only get a kind of external reflection of it. From the occult point of view one can say that the forces in this finer ether are those which govern the chemical affinities of matter, the chemical combinations, the organisation of substances such as we can observe if, for instance, we place a fine powder on a metal plate, and then draw the bow of a violin across the plate, getting as a result the “Chladni” sound-figures. What the coarse physical tone brings about in the powder also occurs throughout space. Space is differentiated, is permeated, by forces which are more rarefied than the forces of light, by forces which represent in the spiritual what tone is in the sense-world. So that when we ascend from warmth to light, and from light to this finer element, we can speak of a chemical of sound-ether, which has the power to decompose and to combine substances, but is in reality of the nature of sound, sound of which the sense-perceptible tone which the ear hears is only the outward expression, the expression made by its passage through air. That brings us somewhat nearer to this finer element which is above light. Thus when we say that what has the quality of manifesting itself externally withdrew from the ha’arets with the haschamayim we must not think only of the light, but also of the finer etheric element of sound which permeates light.

Just as we go downward from warmth to air, and thence to water, so we can go upward from warmth to light, and from light to what is of the nature of sound, of chemical combination. And from water we can descend lower to earth. When we mount from the sound-ether we come to a still higher etheric condition, which also withdrew with the haschamayim. We come to the finest etheric state of all, which weaves within the chemical or sound-ether we have just been describing. If you turn your spiritual ear in this direction, you do not of course hear a noise in the external air, but you hear the tone which vibrates through space, the tone which permeates space and organises matter just as the tone produced by the bow of a violin organises the Chladni sound-figures. But into this condition brought about by the sound-ether is poured a still higher etheric mode. And this higher ether permeates the sound-ether just as the meaning of our thought permeates the sound which our mouth utters, thereby transforming tone into word. Try to comprehend what it is that transforms tone into a word full of meaning; then you will have some idea of this finer etheric element permeating the organising sound-ether and giving meaning to it — the Word which vibrates through space. And this Word, which thrills through space and pours itself out into the sound-ether, is at the same time the source of life, it is really vibrant, weaving life! Thus what has withdrawn out of the ha’arets with the haschamayim, what has gone into the sun, as distinct from the other, the lower, the earth part — as distinct from the tohu wabohu — announces itself externally as light. But behind the light is spiritual tone, and behind that is cosmic speech. Thus we may say that in the brooding warmth lives the lower spiritual part of the Elohim, somewhat as our own desire lives in the lower part of our soul. The higher spirituality of the Elohim, which went out with the haschamayim, lives in the light, in the spiritual sound, in the spiritual word, the cosmic Word. These can only stream into the tohu wabohu again from without.”

R. Steiner, Genesis, Lecture 2, 18 August 1910, CW122